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Long COVID Sufferers Report Symptoms Persisting Seven Months After Infection

author

Stephen Luntz

author

Stephen Luntz

Freelance Writer

Stephen has a science degree with a major in physics, an arts degree with majors in English Literature and History and Philosophy of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication.

Freelance Writer

long hauler

People experiencing Long COVID report little let up in the symptoms 6-7 months after infection. Cryptographer/Shutterstock.com

For months, doctors and COVID-19 survivors have been sounding alarms about “Long COVID”, a range of symptoms experienced months after infection. Most research on the topic has focused on people's experiences 5-12 weeks after peak illness, raising hopes for a more medium-term COVID. Now, however, a study of Long COVID sufferers reveals most still report debilitating symptoms six months after they were infected, with little sign of improvement.

After being infected with COVID-19 herself and failing to fully recover, Hannah Davis decided to research the experiences of others in a similar position. Under the supervision of Dr Athena Akrami of University College London, Davis surveyed 3,762 people from 56 countries diagnosed or suspected of being infected prior to June, and whose illness lasted more than 28 days. The first results have now been reported on Medrxiv.org.

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The work is still going through peer review, and aspects may be challenged. In particular, recruitment through online support groups and social media almost certainly skewed the demographics of those who responded. The inclusion of many who experienced symptoms during the first wave but never tested positive may raise eyebrows. Nevertheless, if what Davis, Akrami, and co-authors report is even close to representative, Long COVID could prove a slow-rolling catastrophe.

Opposition to lockdowns is often framed around needing to keep the economy functioning. Yet 93 percent of those filling out the survey reported symptoms 6-7 months after their suspected infection date. Of these, a quarter were not working at all at the time of the survey because of their illness, while nearly half had negotiated reduced hours. A semi-permanent loss of a substantial proportion of the workforce could be far more expensive than temporary restrictions.

The survey asked respondents whether they have experienced any of 205 symptoms. For 66 of these, the symptoms' onset and duration were also sought and analyzed.

The study relied entirely on self-reporting, and inevitably some symptoms may be psychosomatic. However, the extensive evidence for the disease's unusual effects – for example on the sense of smell – in the shorter term, puts this study in a different class from those on discredited conditions like “wind turbine syndrome.” 

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Even specialists in infectious disease have been stricken with Long COVID, and for some, the suffering is so great as to drive them to desperate measures.

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Thankfully, Long Covid is seldom this severe, and medical advances may make a big difference if enough resources are directed towards it.

Nevertheless, if Davis and Akrami's respondents are anything to go by, simply hoping for recovery with time is seldom enough.

A few symptoms – particularly respiratory symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath – were initially very common, and decline significantly through the survey period. Others, such as vomiting and slurring words, were thankfully rare throughout.

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However, 28 weeks after infection, more than 40 percent of respondents were reporting brain fog and muscle aches, with little sign of improvement. Indeed, many symptoms usually only began more than a month after infection.

Almost 80 percent of those who responded are women, and a third aged between 40-49. This probably reflects the places where the survey was advertised, rather than those most likely to fail to suffer Long COVID, but throws into question widespread claims the virus poses little threat to those under 60.


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